Doctrinal Problems in the Church
Text: Acts 15:1-35
I. One way to learn how to handle various situations that arise in any congregation is to examine similar situations
A. Our problem will not be exactly similar, but what was done, how it was done and why it was done can be greatly useful.
B. Sometimes we think that the perfect church will be free from problems.
1. Oddly, I don’t remember reading about any congregation in the New Testament that did not have some problem.
2. With Satan walking about as a lion, seeking to devour us, it is impossible not to have problems - I Pet 5:8
II. Acts 15
A. A great dispute arose in the church at Antioch - Acts 15:1-3
1. Some came from Judea (Jerusalem in particular) teaching that the Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be saved.
a. Paul and Barnabas disagreed strongly with these teachers
b. This has been a continuing problem for Paul - Gal 2:4-5, 5:1-4
c. The church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to resolve this issue.
2. Why Jerusalem? The disagreement was in Antioch
a. The source of the problem was members of the Jerusalem church - Gal 2:11-13
b. It was not, as some claim, because the Jerusalem church was the source of doctrine for the church
3. Why Paul and Barnabas?
a. They were the most knowledgeable about the situation and why it was wrong
b. The church’s aim was not compromise, but reaching the truth
B. They were received by the apostles, the elders, and the church
1. Notice this describes the whole group. It was not just the men.
2. As they gave report of God’s work in the north among the Gentiles, some Christians who still belonged to the Pharisees interrupted
a. They insisted that these new Gentile Christians be circumcised.
b. They insisted that all Christians follow the teachings of the Law of Moses
3. Notice the contrast in reception between those in Jerusalem and those along their journey - Acts 15:3
C. The public forum stopped and a more limited one began composed of the apostles and elders with a large group listening.
1. Notice that the answer wasn’t clear. There was much disagreement among this group
2. Notice to that the matter was not handled privately, but allowed all who wanted a chance to listen.
3. Notice that elders were involved in publicly defending God’s teaching (See Tit 1:9)
a. Too often we think this to be solely the realm of the preacher.
b. Notice that preachers were not involved in this discussion group.
D. Peter’s argument
1. God, though him, chose the Gentiles who had not obeyed the Law to be children of his - Acts 11:14-18
2. This is not a recent event. They should have remembered their approval.
3. God did not distinguish, why should we?
4. We Jews know that the Old Law was difficult to follow, so why re-establish it?
5. Gentiles and Jews are saved in the same manner.
a. Later, Paul would write - Col 2:8-17
E. Paul and Barnabas’s argument
1. God has shown His approval by the signs and wonders done among the Gentiles - Heb 2:3-4
F. James’ argument
1. This matches what God has said on the matter.
a. Similar to Hosea 2:23
2. This is not a recent innovation, but something God has planned.
3. Suggested a letter be sent stating their position that certain beliefs that the Jews also find acceptable are to be followed by all Christians
a. Avoid things associated with idol worship
b. Avoid sexual immorality - Gen 2:24
c. Avoid things strangled and from blood - Gen 9:4
4. All of these things predate the Old Law and are understandable by all, since the Old Law has been taught widely for many years.
G. A letter was sent
1. It was not a commandment from the church, but a clarification of the congregation’s position.
2. They do not approve of requiring circumcision and they did not authorize anyone from their group to teach such things.
3. They support the work of Paul and Barnabas among the Gentiles
4. They explained some of the things they do require that happen to match the Old Law.
H. Men were selected by the apostles and elders with the whole church’s approval to testify to the truth of the letter.
1. Notice that again the decision was not done by a limited group in isolation.
2. Whole church includes the women - I Cor 14:23
3. Does not imply that the women taught or exercised authority (I Tim 2:12). Since it was the whole church, it meant they had to remain silent (I Cor 14:34-35)
I. Judas and Silas, along with others, joined Paul and Barnabas in returning to Antioch.
1. Judas and Silas were prophets, spokesmen of God’s word.
2. They encouraged the brethren with a lengthy message.
3. After some time, they were sent back to Jerusalem, though Silas elected to remain in Antioch.
4. He joined Paul and Barnabas in preaching and teaching in Antioch
III. Things to notice
A. Even though these men were gifted by the Holy Spirit. Even though the apostles were among the people, they solved their doctrinal problem by the same method we have available to us. They used commands, examples, and drew inferences from the things God had done.
B. Even though there was no “Thou shalt not circumcised”, the beliefs they reasoned out were expected to be followed. It wasn’t a suggestion or considered a matter of opinion.
C. The elders were the defenders of the faith.
D. Decisions were made in public forums where the whole church could listen, even if they could not participate